Welcome Michèle Lamont

by Kieran Healy on June 7, 2009

This week at CT we’re delighted to have Michèle Lamont as our guest. Michèle is Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies and Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies at Harvard. She is also a former teacher of mine, though for some reason her faculty web page does not mention this. A main theme in her extensive body of scholarship has been the comparative study of the relationship between moralized concepts of worth and social hierarchies — her main work here are her first two books, Money, Manners and Morals: The Culture of the French and the American Upper-Middle Class and The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration. Her new book, How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, examines how quality and excellence are defined in the humanities and social sciences, by way of a study of the deliberation and negotiation of panel members as they award prestigious fellowships and awards.

Michèle’s work is always provocative and insightful, and I’m delighted that she’s agreed to join us for a while here.



bob mcmanus 06.07.09 at 3:16 pm

Ok, I wasn’t going to comment, but clicking through the links I saw that the first two books used samples of French and American men while her area of study wouldn’t necessarily exclude women. Interesting.


Clarity 06.07.09 at 7:25 pm

I haven’t read them either.

Perhaps there’s a reason for her choice. For example, most of our leaders are male and thus the drip-down effect in society negates women being the social protagonists in her chosen works. Perhaps she might tackle Emmeline Pankhurst afterwards?

As a woman I have to ask, why does she HAVE to write about women? Is she less of a writer or teacher because of that? Why can’t she be judged on her work and not her chromosomes?


bob mcmanus 06.07.09 at 9:12 pm

As a woman I have to ask

No, you don’t. Be free.

As I am free to ask a question that contains not a hint of criticism or judgement.


bob mcmanus 06.07.09 at 9:50 pm

Perhaps she might tackle Emmeline Pankhurst afterwards?

Or all four (five if Richard counts) Pankhursts, and discuss why Emmeline and Christabel moderated their socialism over time while Adele and Sylvia became active communists.

I was expecting something as simple as wanting to limit the variables in a comparative study, and presumed it was covered in her introductions.

There are, of course, arguments on the far left about whether class, or race, gender, colonial history should be the controlling independent variables, and since Lamont apparently does include a discussion of racial differences (“Workers also draw rigid racial boundaries…” from the blurb) I again found the removal of gender interesting.


Peter Glavodevedhzhe 06.08.09 at 4:19 am

Isn’t it possible that Lamont restricts her study to white men for the same reason other social scientists restrict their studies to a single race, demographic, cohort, etc.–to exclude explanations by other variables? I haven’t read the book (just the blurbs), but among other things, Lamont is trying to isolate the differences in attitudes about success between France and the US. From a methodological standpoint, focusing narrowly on one race and one gender should help capture the difference more clearly.

But I agree with Clarity, the upper middle class is still mostly made up of white men. The choice of subjects was probably inevitable.


Katherine 06.08.09 at 8:25 am

The second book says it in the title – “The Dignity of Working Men“.

As to the first, it think the fact that social scientists restrict their studies to a single race, demographic, cohort etc – one that always just happens to be white men – is a poor excuse for such exclusionary practices, and contibutes to the very exclusion of voices other than white, male ones.

Clarity is right in one respect though – would you have asked the question if Lamont were a man, Bob? And if not, why not?


Mikhail 06.08.09 at 9:09 am

Yes… and here we go with the “dominance of men”… Who cares why the question was asked? As long as the question is interesting and potentially bearing on the ability of the results to generalize to other age/race/nationality groups!


bob mcmanus 06.08.09 at 12:08 pm

would you have asked the question if Lamont were a man, Bob? And if not, why not?

Yup. See 4.3.

“Michèle Lamont provides a rare and revealing collective portrait of the upper-middle class—the managers, professionals, entrepreneurs, and experts at the center of power in society. Her book is a subtle, textured description of how these men define the values and attitudes they consider essential in separating themselves—and their class—from everyone else.” …blurb

Sorry. Don’t know about you, but my instant reaction to this is: Why not women? They are professionals and entrepeneurs and Ivy League Grads too.

Maybe not so much in France? It was just a question. Honest.


alex 06.08.09 at 12:14 pm

Well, there’s a warm welcome already!


bob mcmanus 06.08.09 at 12:22 pm

It wasn’t just white men, but she also interviewed men of color. Ir wasn’t just professionals, the second book was about the working class.

Now if American professional and working class women have such radically different attitudes toward class from their male counterparts that they must be studied separately, well, that’s interesting in itself, isn’t it? Women do trend more liberal and Democratic than men, I think, but not so much that political pollsters exclude them from generalized questions.


bob mcmanus 06.08.09 at 12:31 pm

It wasn’t meant to be hostile, and honestly if I am told by the author (or the crowd) that “Gender Roolz, dood, and that’s a sexist question” I will retreat and go examine myself, as so many socialists have for decades.


Clarity 06.09.09 at 9:42 pm

I find this debate captivating, I wonder, would it get any juicier if we all actually READ the books?

Bob, please don’t retreat, it was a question to your question and your contribution helped spark the above.


Michele Lamont 06.10.09 at 3:44 am

For Money, Morals, and Manners I only interviewed men because I wanted to study those who define the norms in the workplace –men. Moreover, the book had several other levels of comparison (e.g., cultural and social specialists vs forprofit workers; residents of cutlural peripheries (Indianapolis and Clermont-Ferrand) vs cutlural centers (New York and Paris). I did conduct a smaller number of interviews with women for this book, but the focus was men.
In Dignity of Working Men, I sticked with men in order to compare the upper-middle class interviews from the first book with a population of blue-c0llar workers and low-status white collar workers. This book also compared whites and blacks in New York and whites and north African immigrants in France.
Ideally, a third book would have compared women across classes and across national settings. But having spent ten years working on class cultures, I was ready for something else. I’d be happy if someone else took on the project.


bob mcmanus 06.10.09 at 6:23 am

Thank you.


Clarity 06.16.09 at 7:14 am

Thank you Michele.

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